This Carr rides like a dream

12/13/2007 8:00:00 AM

He's headed to his office in the Laxalt Mineral Engineering Building, wearing the jacket of the team that has given him so many headaches – and so much joy – over the years, the Seattle Seahawks.

"I've been a fan for the entire history of the franchise," says Geological Sciences Professor Jim Carr, who can recite the names of all six of the team's head coaches over the past 31 years, from the inventive and underappreciated Jack Patera to the ground-based "Ground Chuck" of Chuck Knox to the coach who has the Seahawks in first place today, Mike Holmgren. Carr grew up in a number of different locales – from the Azores to Texas – as the son of an Air Force veteran, but spent enough time as a teenager in the Pacific Northwest to call Seattle home.

For Carr, today's walk down the hallway isn't just about getting from Point A to Point B. Every person he passes in the hallway – from Diane DePolo of the Nevada Seismology Laboratory to a host of students – receives the same warm, heartfelt greeting.

"How are you doing today?" he asks each person. Carr, 50, leans right or left, craning his long neck, to hear each response. Because how people are doing – are they having a good day – is something that is very important to veteran College of Science and Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering professor.

Later, in his office, the one with the Seahawks sign on the door, he explains his teaching philosophy.

It could just as very well be his philosophy of life.

"The main thing I try to do is make sure that every interaction I have ends positively," he says.

Certainly, Carr's students over the years have taken notice.

On Dec. 5, during the College of Science's Westfall Scholar Luncheon, Carr kept his perfect record intact. In the four years of the Westfall Scholar program – named in honor of founding College of Science Dean David Westfall to honor the achievements of the college's top scholars – Carr has been chosen each time as the faculty mentor from the Department of Geological Sciences & Engineering.

The idea of a perfect batting average, 4-for-4, and in being considered an important and steadying influence for his department's undergraduates, makes Carr uncomfortable.

He is quick to note that, "It never ceases to be a tremendous compliment. But a lot of the faculty in my department are highly dedicated to undergraduate education. I feel somewhat uncomfortable about these mentor awards because I've been designated by the College of Science for (advising) students if they want to major in our department. So because of that, I might have a better chance of being recognized like this."

But when you hear Carr's students speak about their professor, it is clear that he has had a profound influence.

For Erin Doerr, this year's Westfall Scholar from Geological Sciences & Engineering, Carr's guidance was what helped keep the mega-busy senior on track for graduation.

Doerr was not only nearing the end of her college career, she was also busy planning her wedding on Jan. 19, as well as buying a new home in Elko and preparing for a new job in Elko with Newmont Mining Corporation.

"Erin's got all this stuff coming together at once," Carr says, shaking his head with admiration. "These are some of life's biggest stressors: marriage, a job, moving, graduating. And she's doing it all, all at the same time. And I marvel at that."

For her part, Doerr said she could not have had a better mentor than Carr. During the Dec. 5 luncheon, she placed her professor in a select group, in a group of people that will always be close to her heart.

"I would not be here today without Dr. Carr and my parents," she said. "They've been amazing."

Things have not always been so amazing for Carr.

The past couple of years, he says, have been important – not because of the awards and accolades, but because of the crucial steps he has taken in battling clinical depression.

"It wasn't until recently where I was comfortable enough with myself, where I finally learned in my life not to take things so personally," he says. "That's been a very recent achievement on my part. I can't sit here and tell you that in the past, or for my entire academic career, that all of my interactions have been positive.

"But I make sure they are now."

Carr has worked hard over the past few years in understanding clinical depression, in treating it with the proper medication, and in seeking the counsel of professionals such as Dr. Jerry May, a longtime professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

"Suddenly, I've been reborn," Carr says. "My wife and kids talk about the old Jim and the new Jim now. It's been that dramatic. When you suffer from depression, you tend to personalize things all the time, 'Oh God, what did I do? What have I done wrong?'

"That's a hard thing to work through. But because it was making me miserable all the time, it was something I wanted to get over. I didn't want to be like that."

With a new outlook, Carr, who is a 1979 graduate of Nevada, has become even more committed to the concept of undergraduate education.

He feels it is what the University does best.

"I'm very proud to be part of this faculty," he says. "I think that it doesn't get the recognition that it deserves as a whole, for what it does for undergrads. Every one of my colleagues works very hard in that regard. That's really all of our bottom line: to try to do the best we can. And I think the students appreciate that."

To illustrate how transformative positive interactions between undergraduate students and their professors can be, Carr recalled one that occurred when he was a student at Nevada.

It was an important moment for Carr. One that led him down a path of wanting to become a professor.

"I had Bill Rowley in the History Department for Nevada History ... I'd always enjoyed local history," he says. "One day, I was walking into Getchell Library, and Dr. Rowley came all the way over to me from across the way, and told me what a great paper I'd written.

"I didn't even know or think that he even knew me. It's something I still remember."

He recalls moments like that perhaps because that's the kind of professor he has become himself: thoughtful, encouraging, nurturing.

Always willing to take the extra step to help a student.

"Even in the Geology 101 class I teach, I always challenge myself to get know each student's name," he says. "And, to get to know them as a person. I think it's important to understand that students aren't always the same, and to respect each one as an individual. You can't expect every student to perform at the same level. In order to teach them, we have to understand what's going on with them."

Carr has two teenagers at home. Russell is a senior at Reed High School and Anna is a sophomore in the Honors Program at Nevada majoring in biochemistry. Thanks to them, he is able incorporate more than rocks and science into his course curriculum. He often grabs examples from pop culture in an effort to bridge the generational gap between student and professor.

"In 101 especially, it really tickles me when I know they come in thinking, "Oh God, another core requirement,'" he says with a smile. It helps, he adds, to have another educator at home. His wife, Janice, also a graduate of the University, teaches Biology at Hug High School. "The last thing on their mind is that they might actually have some fun. I'll even show 'South Park' episodes if it fits my lesson."

South Park?

"I call it living or staying current in their culture," Carr says. "Because the more you understand about them, the better (teaching) connection you can make. And ... South Park always ends with a real nice moral. Have you ever noticed that?"

With his perfect batting average – not only as a Westfall Scholar mentor, but as a professor who truly cares about his students – it's hard not to notice the guy in the Seahawks jacket. It's hard not to notice that he really does care if you're having a good day.

After all, considering the impact he has had on the lives and direction of his students, every day lately has been a good day for Jim Carr.


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